Thursday, May 25, 2006

Eats in Loma Linda

We found ourselves between Upland and Hemet around dinnertime. After a visit with the Reilly parents and some miscellaneous shopping, we were on our way to the Brukner domicile for a few days of regrouping. Where to eat? Ooooh, we prefer vegetarian cuisine, and so do the Seventh-Day Adventists of Loma Linda. This community is famous for its medical center, but maybe not so much for the Loma Linda Market, which is a shame. We stopped in for a look.

The store has aisles of health-oriented foods, and since we belong more in the tofu crowd rather than the BBQ crowd, it was a real treat. The store bakes whole-grain breads and pastries, and carries some locally produced products, like Grandma Goodie’s Granola (taste tested, and a definite thumbs-up). There is a section with cans of non-meat products that supposedly have the texture and maybe the taste of meat. Although I am not usually fond of faux meat, we got a couple of cans of Terkettes to try on the road when we are hungry and variety is limited. The best thing, however, were the bins – self-serve, bag ‘em yourself bulk items of all the staples I use when I cook at home – flour, legumes, grains. And fresh-ground peanut butter at half the cost of what we paid in Orange County. Although we have limited space now for provisions and had to hold ourselves back, this will definitely be a regular stop on our way between Southern California and Mammoth next winter.

We asked the cashier for her recommendation for a place to eat vegetarian in town. After we wrinkled our noses at the suggestion of Home Town Buffet, she said some people eat at the cafeteria at the hospital. Run by the Seventh-Day Adventists, it conforms to their dietary guidelines. Good enough for us – after going up and down a few elevators and down some nondescript hallways, we found it.

We knew we were in luck when we saw the posted menu for the day – along with the entrees and vegetables of the day, there was a legume of the day – navy beans! Inside it was a typical cafeteria, with plastic trays, Styrofoam dishes, and plastic cutlery. A full salad and fruit bar where you pay by the ounce was in the middle, with a grill for veggie burgers and a server dishing out hot entrees, like vegetarian stroganoff and lasagna. One observation – although it was vegetarian, it was not necessarily low-fat – you could load up on french fries and Danish if you wanted. But we made some good selections -- the gardenburger served on a whole wheat bun was quite tasty. We munched alongside the nurses and doctors in scrubs and people visiting their loved ones in the hospital.

Now that we have had a taste of Grandma Goodies Granola, any excuse to stop and get more will be made!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Southward Bound

We have just passed our one month anniversary of being on the road. Our plan is to head south tomorrow to visit with our parents in Southern California, drop off the ski gear, and load up the backpacking equipment for the second leg of this trip. We started in the late season snowstorms, and tomorrow we will drive through the heat wave in Owens Valley with temperatures reaching record highs in the 90’s. And I just got my internal thermostat adjusted for this winter stuff…

We have had mild weather the last couple of weeks, and the snow is melting fast everywhere. One neighborhood here in town has a true river of snowmelt running through it, requiring sandbags to keep it from flooding homes. Reference points, such as snow drifts on the side of the road, recede visibly from one day to the next. This has been a new experience for both of us, raised in Southern California, where it goes from kinda cool to kinda warm between seasons. It is so interesting to see buds forming on the bushes. We went for a hike yesterday, and saw pine trees sprouting – tiny needles pointing skyward with the seed still attached.

It has been a fun month of skiing and exploring, and we will say goodbye to Mammoth until the fall when we will return to look for rental housing for the winter. Our last backcountry skiing day was Thursday, and the accompanying photo is a view looking southeast from our vantage point on San Joaquin Ridge towards the Mammoth Mountain ski area.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Geeks on Peaks

Our current mode of travel is minimalist in many respects – we have enough clothes for about a week between laundromat visits, most of our camping gear deflates, rolls up, or compresses, and it all fits in the back of a standard Toyota pickup truck. But since we plan to travel this way for several months, there are some modern trappings that we have become accustomed to that we carry with us….here is a list.

Laptop Computer – A month or so before we left we bought a Dell Inspiron 6000, with lots of hard disk space and 1 GB RAM. Besides being used to compose this blog ( I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to write anything of great length or detail anymore without a computer), we also track all our expenses using Quicken, download and store our digital photos, and most important, connect to any wireless Internet connection we can find. So far, our luck has been good – the campground at Washoe Lake had a wireless signal – where it came from we don’t know, since there were no homes or other buildings that appeared to be in range. We would also like to thank the person in Carson City that named their wireless network with their street address – we were able to park right across the street for the strongest signal. And the public library in Mammoth Lakes provides free fast wireless, with tables and outlets to plug in, besides being quiet, warm, and with extended hours. We put a dollar in the fund for their new library every time we stop in. John (business manager) does all our bill payments and banking online, so we need to connect on a regular basis. We have two battery packs (one 3-hour and the other 6-hour), so we have lots of computing time between recharges. Many a blog is written while tucked in the sleeping bag, with light from the monitor illuminating the tent.

Hard Disk Backup – We have an external 160 GB USB hard drive we use to backup our system regularly – I feel way too uncomfortable having all our documents and photos only in one place. Then again, if they steal the truck, they get both copies…

iPod – This is John’s baby – not only does it store 5,400 of the best progressive rock songs from the 1970’s (ok, there are other musical genres on there, too), we also download podcasts, including our favorite NPR programs which we update using iTunes whenever we get connected to the Internet. We can connect the iPod to our radio in the car and listen while we drive. John also has a docking station with two mini speakers, so we can set it up while stationary in camp and listen while chopping vegetables for dinner.

XM Radio – My parents turned us on to satellite radio about a year ago, and it is the best thing in remote areas where there is no radio reception. If you don’t like what you are listening to, just switch to one of the other 150 channels.

Digital Camera – We sold all our film cameras and equipment on eBay before we left, and have gone totally digital. Our camera is a Canon S60, which is the only compact digital camera with a wide-angle (28 mm equivalent). We think it takes great pictures, but the best thing is the video capability – we have a collection of 30-second snippets – if I can figure out how to post them to the blog, I will do it. Another reason we needed the laptop.

Cell Phone – We are now true Americans, and carry the thing around with us everywhere. Just before we left we cancelled our land line and transferred the number to the cell phone. It is now a game to carry it around and see where we get reception. We have carried it on hikes, and made phone call from the tops of peaks – something that bugged the hell out of us when we saw other people do it. I still can’t get over calling my Mom while sitting in my sleeping bag miles from civilization.

PDA – My Palm Zire 31 has become a fifth appendage for me – it stores all my lists, syncs with our contacts and calendar on the computer, and stores my food and exercise diary. It also has games, which are good for killing time while waiting for John to finish washing the dishes.

Refrigerator – No ice for us, thank you. We bought a 1.5 cubic foot 12V cooler on eBay, and it is fantastic. Fresh veggies, cheese, yogurt, etc., all kept at a perfect temperature. My parents have one, too --- they use it to keep their beer cold.

So, all this cool stuff needs power, so we have a whole box full of cords, adaptors, etc. We also have a solar panel – yeah, baby, 80 watts of sun-sucking power -- that charges an extra 12V battery that is mounted in the truck. With an inverter, we can convert 12V to 110V, and plug in any of our toys for charging. The panel rides in the back of the truck, and when we stop or are in camp, John brings it out and points it towards the sun for maximum charging. John rarely gets as excited as when the amp meter registers 9 amps (see photo of the day – expression of contentment on John’s face is not just because of the great view of Mono Lake – the panel is probably putting out pretty good, too). Unfortunately, we don’t have a meter that tells us how charged the battery is, so if we don’t get the panel out because we are parked in the ski area all day with the fridge running, we get worried. In fact, I would say John is a bit preoccupied (obsessive is perhaps too strong a word) about putting the panel out – he can often be seen face pointing skyward gauging the direction and intensity of the sun.

Needless to say, we make sure to lock the truck whenever we park somewhere. But we are not too worried -- the back of the truck is packed so tightly it would be a job for someone to find the goods anyway.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Virginia Real

There is something magical that happens to snow as the sun bakes it. What fell to the ground originally as icy crystals that form drifts of fluffy snow, begins to change with the repeated melting during the day and freezing again at night. The crystals become rounded grains that begin to fuse together to form a more cohesive snowpack. Depending on the elevation, the aspect, and slope of the terrain, this transformation may be at different stages at different locations on a mountain.

We left the machine-worked snow of Mammoth to become students of the natural snowpack metamorphosis. We spent three days hiking and skiing the slopes around Virginia Lakes, located just north of Conway Summit between Lee Vining and Bridgeport. The parking lot at the road terminus was still covered under several feet of snow, with just the tops of the picnic tables and bar-b-ques visible. The County crews were working with large snow removal equipment to create a path to the many summer cabins and campground. The lakes themselves were still frozen – fishermen were fishing through holes augured through ice five feet thick. The lakes are nestled at the base of large amphitheater of peaks and ridges, perfect for skiing.

The technique for travel uphill is to attach “skins” to the bottom of our skis. These are a fabric with a nap, much like fur, so when you move forward, it glides with little resistance. When you step down and the ski begins to slide back, the fibers are pushed into the snow and it grabs. We are able to traverse fairly steep slopes in this manner, traversing back and forth like a sailboat tacking in the wind, to get up the steepest faces.

It takes time to get up high, and as we move up we take note of the snow and how it is changing as the sun hits it. The slopes facing east get the early morning sun and soften first, and by the time we reached a height worthy of skiing, it was already too soft. Think mashed potatoes. But when we traversed over to slopes facing more north-westerly, the texture and density of the snow changed. Just the upper inch or two was softened over a consolidated base – the trick is to time it just right to when it reaches this perfect thaw point. The sensation of skiing this texture can be silky, velvety, creamy. It is this that we seek, and can only be found in snow in its natural state that has been tempered by the sun. Every day is different, depending on the temperature or if it is cloudy or windy.

These were our first backcountry days of the year, and we were not disappointed. It is such a different experience from the lift-assisted skiing – quiet, solitary, strenuous – but the reward of finding the prime conditions keeps us coming back. Our tired legs need a rest, but we will be out looking for that perfect snow again soon.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Crater Views

Mono Craters are prominent symbols of the active geologic history of the Eastern Sierra. Rising from the valley south of Mono Lake, the features are young enough to still retain a conical shape with truncated tops. It was time to give the uphill muscles a challenge, so we set off to hike to the top.

We approached the craters from the east side. This might not be the shortest route, but the idea was to find a sunny ridge that did not have snow. We managed to avoid all but the largest patches. The temperatures have been warm and above freezing during the night, so the snow was not firm enough to support our weight and the consistency was much like bottomless mashed potatoes. John was much more careful than me when crossing the snow. He would step carefully, stomping the snow several times with each step to compact it so he would not sink above his ankles. From behind this motion resembled that of a cat walking across a puddle. At times we did sink down and the snow would get into the top of the boots, and we would need to stop and clear it out before it melted. I tried leading at one point, forging ahead, managing to sink down thigh-high, and requiring assistance to get out. I guess the tortoise won out over the hare.

Crossing the slopes and as we reached the rim of the crater, we walked across the gravel, which was a salt-and-pepper mix of obsidian and pumice. The obsidian came if a variety of states – some pieces were freshly broken and showed the glossy sheen of broken glass, some were rounded and frosted so they were dull and looked like ordinary pebbles. Others were layered records of molten material instantly solidified – glassy in one band, frothy bubbles in another. Geologists notice these things as they trudge uphill with their eyes focused downward.

We reached to top of what we thought was the high point. The rim, however, consisted of three prominent knobs, and the highest was to the west and was not the one we were standing on. So down a few hundred feet we went and then back up to the summit of Crater Mountain, the northernmost crater in the chain. On top were a Sierra Club register with entries back to 1972, and a USGS survey marker placing the peak at 9,172 feet in elevation.

We ate our lunch, dried our socks, and soaked up the 360 degree view from the top. To the north was Mono Lake (the featured photo), to the west and south the snow-covered expanse of the Sierra range, and to the east the basin and ranges of Nevada. We could clearly see the routes of dirt roads criss-crossing the valley below, the trucks and RVs traveling up Highway 395, the former shorelines of Mono Lake, the June Mountain ski area and string of June Lakes, the town of Lee Vining at the entry of Tioga Pass, the water treatment ponds and the County landfill. Afternoon puffy clouds began to build and obscure the warming sun, so we left our perch to descend back to camp, sunburned and happy.

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All original text and photos are copyrighted Doris Reilly © 2006-2018. No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.
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